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CRAINVILLE — Rusti Harris was heading home to Herrin last week with her baby in the back seat of her car when she noticed flashing red lights in her rear view mirror.

“I had just stopped at MotoMart in Carterville. I was driving on the east end of East Grand, near Samuel Road, when I was pulled over by a dark green sedan,” Harris said of the May 3 incident.

She stopped, but noticed the red flashing light on top of the car was close to the driver’s side of the sedan.

“I could have been going a little too fast,” she said.

As the driver walked toward Harris’ vehicle, she began collecting her registration and insurance information.

Harris claims the man walked up to her window and identified himself as an undercover officer with Illinois State Police. He told Harris she was driving too fast. Harris said the man offered to let her go if she would go to an ATM and withdraw $200 to give to him. Harris described the man as having blond or light brown hair, probably in his late 20s or early 30s. He was wearing a red crew-neck T-shirt and blue jeans.

At that point, Harris pulled away very quickly and called her boyfriend, who called Carterville Police.

Carterville Deputy Police Chief Mike Flaningam confirmed they received a call from Harris, but the incident happened in the Crainville Police jurisdiction. Harris was referred to Crainville Police Department.

Crainville Police Chief Curtis Rogers confirmed that the department received a report of the incident, but did not have any other details on the matter.

Trooper Joshua Haile, Illinois State Police District 13 safety education and public information officer, also did not have a report of this incident, but said a person impersonating a police officer in Illinois can land in jail.

He also had some tips for drivers.

If someone is concerned that they are trying to be stopped by a person who is not a police officer, he or she can drive to a nearby police facility.

“If you are near a police department, sheriff’s office or state police headquarters, pull in and call them,” Haile said.

He also suggested turning on hazard lights and calling 9-1-1 to see who the responding officer is. The dispatcher will be able to tell you if the police officer is legitimate.

“We are concerned about everyone’s safety as well. I would rather someone be sure they are being stopped and go a block or two with flashers on than to be hurt,” Haile said. “Pull into a public parking lot, like Kroger (or) Walmart where there are a lot of people and security cameras and lighting as well.”

Haile drove an unmarked police car for several years. He said officers understand that people may not recognize the car as a police officer.

“We as police officers don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable. Turning hazards on is the first step,” Haile said.

“It was definitely very scary for me. I was lucky I got away. I wasn’t going to get $200 to give him,” Harris said.

She said the man may have a hard time finding his next victim. Her post about the experience on Facebook has been shared 700 times.

“Thousands of people have probably seen it,” Harris said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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